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American’s New Upgrade Policy: What You Need to Know

Everything you thought you knew about American Airlines’ upgrade policies will change this weekend.

On May 20, American will begin using a new system for prioritizing upgrade requests. The factors used to rank upgrades, from most to least important, will be as follows:

  • Elite status
  • Type of upgrade
  • 12-month rolling elite-qualifying dollars (EQDs)
  • Booking code
  • Date and time of request

What’s new and significant here is the addition of a passenger’s spend to the equation. The current system ranks requests by elite status, and then uses the date and time of request as a second ranking screen. Going forward, the amount of elite-qualifying spend will displace timing as a key ranking variable.

AAdvantage members earn Elite-Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) based on the ticket price of American flights, select partner flights, and some spend on American co-branded credit cards. EQDs have been tracked by American and used in awarding elite status since July 2016.

Because elite spend records don’t yet go back a full 12 months, American will consider EQDs from August 2016 until the present, until August 1, 2017, at which time a full year’s worth of past EQDs can be evaluated.

The new focus on EQDs is no surprise. As have Delta and United, American has fundamentally reconfigured its AAdvantage loyalty program to recognize and reward a customer’s contribution to the company’s bottom line first and foremost. In principle, that make perfect business sense: Your best customers are your most profitable customers, and they deserve to be disproportionately rewarded. Still, the shift to spend-based programs from the traditional mileage-based schemes has been disruptive, and resulted in a significant devaluation of airline loyalty programs for the great majority of travelers, who travel infrequently on discounted tickets.

The new upgrade rules are yet another step in the direction of equating loyalty with spending, and all that that implies.

Bottom line: If you’re not a big spender, resign yourself to flying in the back of the plane.

Reader Reality Check

How will the new rule affect you?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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